IF MOCK OUTRAGE were a valued commodity, Washington's politicians should rejoice - they've struck the mother lode. At least they're reliable: Whenever one of them says something stupid, you can bet there's somebody else ready to be deeply hurt and indignant. The latest fatuous tempest was stirred up by Karl Rove's speech last week to a group of New York conservatives. Mr. Rove, a man known to treat his opponents with the kind of warm regard exterminators show cockroaches, said liberals wanted to offer "therapy and understanding" to terrorists in the wake of 9/11.
This is, of course, not only inaccurate but nonsensical (and one suspects Mr. Rove knows this and he knows we know he knows this). As hyperbole goes, it's pretty much par for the course from a hard-core operative like Mr. Rove. Yet the Democrats from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean lined up fast to register their shock and disgust and call for his immediate resignation.
Tellingly, the incident came rather quickly after Republicans feigned a similar level of horror at Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat, when he compared the abuses of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the behavior of some truly evil regimes, including Nazis and the Soviets. Was it a poor comparison? Absolutely, but it was notable that the Republicans' full measure of outrage wasn't achieved until after a day or two of replay on cable TV news. Clearly, it's considered prudent to wait and see how something's getting chewed on Fox News before summoning the corresponding level of dyspepsia.
And those are only the latest high-decibel debacles. Before them, the Republicans were either crying over the latest partisan declarations from Mr. Dean or the Democrats were attacking Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for comparing their position on filibusters to Nazis occupying Paris. At least the politicians on both sides are consistent - they like their emotion-laden rhetoric over-the-top and substance-free. (Here's a political speechwriting tip: Don't play the Nazi card unless talking about actual Nazis.)
It's more than a little disappointing to see members of Congress and the White House staff invest so much time and trouble in this escalating arms race of bloviation. Don't they have anything better to do? There's a war in Iraq, record budget deficits and trade imbalances, national security threats from the Middle East to North Korea, an uncertain economy, and growing problems in the health care system and the environment. Yet these knuckleheads would rather call each other names and get in playground shoving matches than engage the issues. What contempt they must have for voters to think nobody would see through this.